Going to the Majesty of Spain’ exhibition? Stop by the Old Court House Museum first

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 19, 2001

Vicksburg artist Hobbs Freeman works on a diorama of Fort Nogales, designed from a 1796 map, that will be on display at the Old Court House Museum throughout the summer. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[02/19/01] Vicksburg residents are being encouraged to attend “The Majesty of Spain” exhibition in Jackson, but not without visiting the Old Court House Museum.

The Cherry Street attraction features a diorama of Fort Nogales, a Spanish fortification overlooking the Mississippi River, that will be on display through the summer.

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“We’re calling it The Spanish Era, 1780-1798,'” said Gordon Cotton, the museum’s curator and director. “What is now Warren County was the northernmost point of the Spanish colony.”

Mississippi’s Spanish heritage has been overshadowed by its Confederate history, Cotton said, adding that, “We’re a composite of our past, and Spain was a part of our past.”

Spain’s presence in what is now Mississippi actually dates to the 1500s, when Hernando de Soto first explored the lower Mississippi River Valley. The region was under British rule until 1780, Cotton said, and Fort Nogales was constructed in 1791.

Local artist Hobbs Freeman created the diorama using a 1796 map and also studied the current topography. Between the two, “It’s a guesstimate’ of how it looked,” he said. “It’s the closest I could come to.”

Freeman spent more than a month creating the diorama. “It was very tedious,” he said, beginning with a wire form that he covered with cloth. Stockades were fashioned from toothpicks, string represents river currents, and trees were made using reindeer moss imported from Arkansas.

“I called a friend and told him exactly what I wanted and where it was and he shipped it to me in an apple crate,” Freeman said. “I tore that apart and used little twigs for the base of the trees. I didn’t do people because they would have looked like ants.”

The diorama features a block house, which Freeman carved from wood, a ravine and an elevated plain. Also represented are Fort of the Great Battery, Fort Sugarloaf, Fort Mount Vigie and Fort St. Ignace, four of the five forts that made up Fort Nogales.

“One of the forts did not fit our display case,” he said, explaining that Fort Gayoso is represented by an arrow pointing in its general direction.

Freeman doubts many people realize Warren County’s Spanish history. “This helps to visualize it,” he said, adding that he hopes the exhibition in Jackson is well attended by locals “because of the history of our connection with Spain.”

The Old Court House Museum is offering two other events in association with “The Majesty of Spain.” Dr. Giovanni DeChiaro, a music professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, will perform a concert of Spanish classical guitar on March 17. Dr. Chris Morris, a history professor from the University of Texas, will lecture April 7 on “Warren County Spanish Heritage.”

Spanish fever is running high in other areas of Vicksburg as well, with the yellow and red flag of Spain flying at many attractions. Red and black banners announcing the exhibition have also been put up throughout the city, and residents are also reminded to support the exhibition by planting red and yellow flowers.

“We’re excited, because we anticipate many visitors who will enjoy the exhibit will also come here,” said Lenore Barkley, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That means more people sleeping in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and enjoying our history.”

“The Majesty of Spain,” a collection of more than 600 fine and decorative art works from the Royal Collection of the Patrimonio Nacional and the Museo del Prado, will be March 1-Sept. 3 at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion. It is the largest exhibition of Spanish treasures ever held in North America.